At present Buddhism is one of the major world religions. The philosophy of Buddhism is based on the teachings of Lord Buddha. The Buddha is the greatest conqueror the world has ever seen. His teachings illuminate the way for mankind to cross from a world of darkness, hatred and suffering to a new world of light, love and happiness. A Buddha always teaches Dhamma, Dhamma means truth, nature, the law of nature, which is universal. Dhamma can never be sectarian; it is the universal law of nature. The Gautama Buddha was the first most active missionary in the world. He wandered from place to place for forty-five years preaching His doctrine to the masses and the intelligentsia. Till His last moment, He served humanity both by example and by precept.
The Buddha-Dhamma is a moral and philosophical system which expounds a unique path of Enlightenment, and is not a subject to be studied from a mere academic standpoint. The Doctrine is certainly to be studied, more to be practiced, and above all to be realized by oneself.
Buddhism and Caste
It was the Buddha who, for the first time in the known history of mankind, attempted to abolish slavery and “invented the higher morality and the idea of the brotherhood of the entire 232 human race and in striking terms condemned” the degrading caste-system which was firmly rooted in Indian Society at that time. The Buddha declared:“By birth is not one an outcast,By birth is not one a brahmin.By deeds is one an outcast, by deeds is one a brahmin.”
Vāsettha Sutta relates that two young brahmins had a discussion with regard to what constitutes a brahmin. One maintained that birth made a brahmin, while the other contended that conduct made a brahmin. As neither could convince the other both of them agreed to refer the matter to the Buddha. So they approached the Buddha and presented their case before Him. The Buddha at first reminded the questioners that although in the case of plants, insects, quadrupeds, serpents, fishes and birds there are many species and marks by which they could be distinguished, yet in the case of men there are no such species and marks. Then He explained how men differentiated themselves according to their various occupations. In conclusion the Buddha commented:“Birth makes no brahmin, nor non-brahmin makes;‘Tis life and doing that mould the brahmin true.Their lives mould farmers, tradesmen, merchants, serfs;Their lives mould robbers, soldiers, chaplains, kings.”
Another interesting dialogue concerning this problem of caste appears in the Madhura Sutta. The King of Madhura makes the following report to the Venerable Kaccāna.“The brahmins say thus, Kaccāna, ‘The brahmins arethe most distinguished of the four divisions into whichthe people are classified; every other division is inferior.The brahmins alone are accounted pure, not those whoare not brahmins. The brahmins are the legitimate sonsof Brahma, born from his mouth, specially made by him,heirs of Brahma.’ What do you, Sir, say to this?”
The Venerable Kaccāna replied that it was an empty assertion and pointed out how a wealthy person could employ as his servant a member of any class or caste and how a vicious person could be born in a woeful state and a virtuous person in a blissful state despite their particular castes, adding that a criminal, irrespective of his caste, would be punished for his crime. He emphasized the fact that all joining the Order receive equal honor and reverence without any discrimination. According to Buddhism caste or colour does not preclude one from becoming an adherent of the Buddha or from entering the noble Order of the Sangha where all are treated as Ariyas. Fishermen, scavengers, courtesans, together with warriors and brahmins, were freely admitted into the Order and were also given positions of rank. Upāli, the barber, was made, in preference to all others, chief disciple in matters pertaining to the Vinaya discipline. Sunīta, who was honoured by Kings and nobles as an Arahant, was a timid scavenger. The philosophic Sāti was the son of a fisherman. The courtesan Ambapāli joined the Order and attained Arahantship. Rajjumālā, who was converted by the Buddha as she was about to commit suicide, was a slave girl. So was Punnā whose invitation to spend a rainy season was accepted by the Buddha in preference to that of the millionaire Anāthapindika, her own master. Subhā was the daughter of a smith. Cāpā was the daughter of a deer-stalker. Such instances could be multiplied from the books to show that portals of Buddhism were wide open to all without any distinction. The Buddha provided equal opportunities for all and raised, rather than lowered, the status of people.
In Buddhism one finds milk for the babe and meat for the strong, and it appeals equally to both the rich and the poor.
Foundations of Buddhism
The four Noble Truths, which the Buddha Himself discovered and revealed to the world, are the chief characteristics and the unshakable foundations of Buddhism.
The Buddha’s Teaching is based on the Four Noble Truths. To realize these Truths is to realize and penetrate into the true nature of existence, including the full knowledge of oneself. When we recognize that all phenomenal things are transitory, are subject to suffering and are void of any essential reality, we will be convinced that true and enduring happiness cannot be found in material possessions and worldly achievement, that true happiness must be sought only through mental purity and the cultivation of wisdom. The Four Noble Truths are a very important aspect of the Buddha’s teaching. The Buddha has said that it is because we fail to understand the Four Noble Truths that we continue to go round in the cycle of birth and death. The Four Noble Truths are:1. The Noble Truth of Dukkha2. The Noble Truth of the Cause of Dukkha3. The Noble Truth of the End of Dukkha4. The Noble Truth of the Path leading to the End of Dukkha
The first three represent the philosophy of Buddhism, while the fourth represents the ethics of Buddhism, in accordance with that philosophy. All these four Truths which comprise the Dhamma of the Buddha are dependent on this body itself. They are incontrovertible facts wholly associated with man and other beings. Whether the Budd as arise or not these Truths exist in the universe. It is the Buddhas that reveal them to the world. Buddhism rests on the pivot of suffering. Although Buddhism emphasizes the existence of suffering yet it does not follow that Buddhism is a pessimistic religion. On the contrary it is neither totally pessimistic nor totally optimistic but realistic.
One would be justified in calling the Buddha a pessimist if he had merely emphasized the truth of suffering without suggesting a means to end suffering and gain eternal happiness. The Buddha perceived the universality of sorrow and prescribed a remedy for this universal sickness of humanity. The highest conceivable happiness, according to the Buddha, is Nibbāna, which is the total extinction of suffering.
The eightfold path – The middle way
The eightfold path, although referred to as steps on a path, is not meant as a sequential learning process, but as eight aspects of life, all of which are to be integrated in everyday life. Thus the environment is created to move closer to the Buddhist path.The eightfold path is at the heart of the middle way, which turns from extremes, and encourages us to seek the simple approach.
The eightfold path:
1. Right Understanding: The first step of the eightfold path is Right Understanding or Right View. This is a significant step on the path as it relates to seeing the world and everything in it as it really is, not as we believe it to be or want it to be.
2. Right Intent: The second step on the Eightfold Path is Right Intent. This is the step where we become committed to the path. Right Understanding shows us what life really is and what life’s problems are composed of, Right Intent urges us to decide what our heart wants.
3. Right Speech: Right Speech is the next step of the Path. We tend to underestimate the power of the spoken word, and often regret words said in haste. Each of us has experienced the disappointment associated with harsh criticism, whether justified or not, and we also are likely to have felt good when kind words encouraged us.
4. Right Action: Right Action recognizes the need to take the ethical approach in life, to consider others and the world we live in. This includes not taking what is not given to us, and having respect for the agreements we make both in our private and business lives. Right Action also encompasses the five precepts which were given by the Buddha, not to kill, steal, lie, to avoid sexual misconduct, and not to take drugs or other intoxicants.
5. Right Livelihood: The next on the Eightfold Path follows on from Right Action, and this is Right Livelihood. If your work has a lack of respect for life, then it will be a barrier to progress on the spiritual path. Buddhism promotes the principle of equality of all living beings and respect for all life.
6. Right Effort: Right Effort means cultivating an enthusiasm, a positive attitude in a balanced way. Like the strings of a musical instrument, the amount of effort should not be too tense or too impatient, as well as not too slack or too laid back. Right Effort should produce an attitude of steady and cheerful determination.
7. Right Mindfulness: While Right Effort is a very easy concept for most of us, Right Mindfulness is somewhat trickier to grasp, and may involve quite a change of thinking. Right Mindfulness means being aware of the moment, and being focused in that moment. When we travel somewhere, we are hearing noises, seeing buildings, trees, advertising, feeling the movement, thinking of those we left behind, thinking of our destination. So it is with most moments of our lives. Right Mindfulness asks us to be aware of the journey at that moment, and to be clear and undistracted at that moment. Right Mindfulness is closely linked with meditation and forms the basis of meditation.
8. Right Concentration: Once the mind is uncluttered, it may then be concentrated to achieve whatever is desired. Right Concentration is turning the mind to focus on an object, such as a flower, or a lit candle, or a concept such as loving compassion. This forms the next part of the meditation process. Right concentration implies that we select worthy directions for the concentration of the mind, although everything in nature, beautiful and ugly, may be useful for concentration. At deeper levels, no object or concept may be necessary for further development.
In Buddhism, the eightfold path is meant as a guideline, to be considered, to be contemplated, and to be taken on when, and only when each step is fully accepted as part of the life you seek. Buddhism never asks for blind faith, it seeks to promote learning and a process of self-discovery
The Buddha said that to become enlightened, you need only to understand The Four Noble Truths and Dependent Origination. Dependent Origination is also called the law of causality and was the other main revelation which came to Buddha at his enlightenment. In this teaching, he says that nothing exists on its own, but always has come from earlier circumstances.
A piece of paper does not come into existence spontaneously. It is made from wood pulp and water. The wood comes from trees, which comes from seeds from earlier trees. If we burn paper, it becomes smoke and ash, so it has not disappeared but transformed. The essential components of that piece of paper were always there, and will always be there. A pot is made because once a potter took clay and formed it on a wheel and then fired the pot. Many circumstances and components were needed for the process.
In the same way, we did not spontaneously come into existence at birth; we are the result of our parents, of the circumstances of their meeting, and of all that happened before. We are alive today because we were once born, as a result of our parents meeting at an earlier time. Everything is always a consequence of something before, that is, the origin of everything is not unique, it is dependent on a particular set of circumstances having happened.
Dependent origination is similar to cause and effect, and closely links to the Four Noble Truths. Desire causes suffering; one is dependent on the other. Following the path causes desire to reduce and so causes suffering to be reduced. If we begin to see everything as dependant on everything else, then we will need to look to the larger picture where everything we think and do affects the future.
The Buddha did not see a separate and benevolent creator who could act on our behalf. The Buddha saw the interdependence of all life and the cause and effect of actions which create their own future.
The Buddha does not expect His followers to be constantly brooding on the ills of life and so make their lives unhappy. Joy (piti) has to be cultivated by every Buddhist as one of the essentials or prerequisites of Enlightenment. In the opinion of many unbiased writers, Buddhists are reputed to be the happiest people in the whole world. They have no inferiority complex that they are wretched sinners. The members of the Noble Order, who lead the Holy Life in the fullest possible manner, are perhaps the happiest persons. “Aho sukham, aho sukham” – Oh, happy indeed! Oh, happy indeed! “We shall be living in Joy” – are some of the oft-repeated favorite sayings of His followers. One day a certain deity approached the Buddha and questioned Him thus:“Who in the forest make their wonted haunt –The saintly livers of the holy life –Who by one daily meal do break their fast:Tell me how look they so serene of hue?”
The Buddha replied;“They make no lamentation o’er the past,They yearn not after that which is not come,By what now is do they maintain themselves;Hence come it that they look serene of hue.”
Happily the Bhikkhus live in the eternal present with no worries about either the past or the future.
In the process of becoming enlightened, the Buddha is said to have recognised all his previous lives. At the same time, he also said that nothing from one life goes on to the next. Quite a paradox really! Buddhists understand life as samsara, meaning perpetual wandering, and describe the transition like a billiard ball hitting another billiard ball. While nothing physical transfers, the speed and direction of the second ball relate directly to the first. So the term most often used is rebirth, rather than reincarnation. Reincarnation implies the transfer of an essence, or a soul, while rebirth follows the law of causality, or dependent origination, where this arises because of circumstances which happened before. A primary aim of Buddhism is to break free of the wheel of samsara, and to reach a new level called Nirvana.
Nirvana is the most misunderstood term in Buddhism. Those in the West recognize the term as meaning Heaven, or a Heaven on Earth, or perhaps a famous rock band The Buddha described Nirvana as the ultimate goal, and he reached that state during his enlightenment. At this point, he chose to teach others so that they might also experience this realisation, and so when he died, forty-five years later, he then passed through pari nirvana, meaning completed nirvana. Nirvana literally means extinguishing or unbinding. The implication is that it is freedom from whatever binds you, from the burning passion of desire, jealousy, and ignorance. Once these are totally overcome, a state of bliss is achieved, and there is no longer the need the cycle of birth and death. All karmic debts are settled. The Buddha refused to be drawn on what occurred then, but implied that it was beyond word and without boundaries. Certainly, he saw it in a much different state than our current existence, and not a simple parallel to the process of individual rebirth
Buddhism originated in India. Despite its place of origin, the Dhamma or Sublime teaching that the Buddha expounded is timeless and universal, and is not confined to the Indian sub-continent but is meant for all mankind. He has given all the necessary advice to guide mankind to lead a noble way of life and experience spiritual solace and fulfillment. In his teaching, the Buddha discusses all the existing human problems and the ways to overcome them so that true peace and happiness can be maintained. There is an urgent need today for Buddhist leaders, writers and devotees to understand that the essence of the Buddha’s Teaching is unalterable and constant. We must learn to forget our differences and develop the important fundamental aspects of Buddhist practices which are common to all schools of Buddhism. Buddhism must transcend all national, racial and cultural barriers.